In the part of west Africa where I’ve been living this past year, there are a lot of wild animals, some of them dangerous. Toads are potentially poisonous. Snakes are a real hazard in the bush. The commonplace “champion bug” releases a venom that leaves welts on skin. Mosquitoes carry malaria, and spiders tend to be the size of an adult male hand. But lizards are ubiquitous all over and most people seem to find them benign, even charming.
Not me. My feud with lizards started in the back veranda of my residence. I would pass through a screened area to reach my kitchen. Lizards would lie in wait clinging to the screen, unbeknownst to me. When I passed by on the way to the kitchen, they for no apparent reason would kamikaze off the screen onto my neck or my bare feet, making me shriek and bringing the guards running.
Then, they found ways to gain entry into various rooms of my house. One took up residence behind my bathroom mirror, and as I washed my face, jumped out from behind the mirror. The last straw was the droppings. I found lizard poop deposits appearing, bizarrely like clockwork, on my stash of soaps and face washes in the bathroom, dangerously close to my toothbrush.
I decided on a long-term but time-honored counter measure: fight prey with a predator. I adopted a 1-month old kitten from the street, raised him, fed him fish, and let him sleep curled up on my neck night after night. He practiced chasing houseflies and fighting praying mantises. When he grew big enough, I marched my cat around my compound, familiarizing him with the layout and pointing at lizards. He’d chase after them eagerly but fruitlessly on his small legs and delicate kitten pads.
In time he got bigger and stronger and bolder. Finally, the time came. My cat spotted a lizard, chased it down, and caught it. He batted the lizard. The lizard ejected its wiggling tail as a diversion. The cat swatted the lizard some more.
“Finish it off!” I told my cat.
The cat didn’t; he continued batting the lizard around.
“Fine, I’ll do it myself.” I stood above the creature, poised to beat it to death with my slipper.
But I just looked at the lizard’s small breathing frame. Its lungs expanding, contracting against its rib cage. Neither of us moved.
The cat couldn’t kill it. I couldn’t kill it. Neither of us could bring ourselves to do it.
My cat and I exchanged what I imagined was a chagrined look. I picked up the battered, tail-less, shell-shocked, but still alive lizard and tossed it over the wall of my compound.
Apparently, the lizard feud was never really about the lizards.
Image: Photo of my cat very much not hunting a lizard.